Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman will each be making their highly anticipated returns to the NASCAR Cup Series when racing resumes Sunday, May 17 at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Two of NASCAR’s most decorated veterans, the pair of former Daytona 500 winners should inject a degree of excitement into what’s already going to be a thrilling afternoon at NASCAR’s original superspeedway.
But what about beyond that race? Surely, the two drivers aren’t content to just ride out the respective twilights of their careers — Kenseth was already sitting on his couch before the rest of us were, and likely wouldn’t come back just to turn laps. Newman, not to mention, was in contention to win another “Great American Race” coming to the checkered flag just a few months ago.
The potential future Hall of Famers each find themselves in competitive rides, faced with a schedule that will trim practice and qualifying time — a caveat you’d have to think would favor the sport’s veterans with a bevy of track laps under their belts.
Courtesy of some data from Racing Insights, here are some bullet points on a statistical pathway to the 2020 NASCAR Playoffs for two of NASCAR’s longtime stars.
Ryan Newman, No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford
Has amassed 36 points from finish at Daytona (29th place in the standings)
Will need to average 28 points/race in the next 22 races to make top 16 in points
28 points with no stage points is ninth place
Matt Kenseth, No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Will need to average 30 points/race in the next 22 races to make the top 16 in points
30 points with no stage points is seventh place
Daniel Suarez currently sits 31st in points with 32 points
Non-full timer David Ragan is 30th, but ineligible for the playoffs
Clearly, with the spate of races to come and the difficulty involved in averaging ninth- and seventh-place finishes for Newman and Kenseth, respectively, their best path to the postseason contention will come via a trip to Victory Lane.
For context, 2019 Cup champion Kyle Busch led the series with an average finish of 8.9 over 36 races last year. Not saying the duo — with a championship and 57 Cup wins scattered between them — isn’t capable of pulling off such a feat, it just isn’t the most likely of scenarios, by far.
The question then: where should we look for these two to cash in on for an automatic playoff berth?
NASCAR ON YOUTUBE: See all of Ryan Newman’s poles
Newman’s top five tracks by average finish
Darlington Raceway, 12.6
0 wins, 7 top 5s, 13 top 10s
Pocono Raceway, 13.1
1 win, 9 top 5s, 15 top 10s
New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 13.5
3 wins, 7 top 5s, 20 top 10s
Kentucky Speedway, 14.4
0 wins, 3 top 5s, 4 top 10s
Dover International Speedway, 14.6
3 wins, 7 top 5s, 14 top 10s
Kenseth’s top five tracks by average finish
Kentucky Speedway, 8.4
1 win, 3 top 5s, 6 top 10s
Texas Motor Speedway, 9.5
2 wins, 14 top 5s, 19 top 10s
Michigan International Speedway, 11.3
3 wins, 14 top 5s, 20 top 10s
New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 11.6
3 wins, 12 top 5s, 21 top 10s
Atlanta Motor Speedway, 11.9
0 wins, 11 top 5s, 17 top 10s
Based solely on the above numbers, you’d have to think Kenseth — whose career win count is more than double that of Newman’s, in only eight more starts — would be the more likely of the two that we’d see punch his ticket with a win. The 48-year-old, however, is at an age where it’s fair to question what he still has left in the tank after sitting out the entirety of last season.
Lest we forget, as well, that Newman very nearly could have already been a playoff lock with a Daytona 500 win that was within his grasp in the final seconds of that race.
Either way, the possibilities are endless at the moment and given the already topsy-turvy nature of the 2020 season, we certainly aren’t counting either out from making a run at a title, perhaps for the final time.